Or – “Sadly, I Think I Really Meant To Pick Up #21.1…”

And here is my biggest complaint about Marvel’s Point One initiative:  It’s a pain to keep track of.  When purchasing this issue, I thought this was the first part of Rick Remender’s revamping of the Secret Avengers.  Will my disappointment outweigh my enjoyment?

Writer: Warren Ellis
Penciler: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Wade Von Grawbadger
Colorist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Dave Lanphear
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $3.99

Previously, in Secret Avengers:  When Steve “The Captain Formerly Known As America” Rogers returned from death/the timestream, he found that Nick Fury had been ousted as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. and replaced by the insane Norman Osborn.  Taking over for Norm-O in the wake of the Siege of Asgard, Steve left one of the Green Goblin’s programs intact, that of the underground Avengers mission force that nobody knows about. I’ve never been entirely sure that I accept this sort of off-the-books Jim Phelps attitude from Cap, but at least the stories have been pretty cool…


A few years ago, after ‘House of M,’ Marvel created the O.N.E. (Office of National Emergency) as a scapegoat government agency to act as the new jack-booted thugs of the Marvel U.  H.A.M.M.E.R. arrived not long after and knocked O.N.E. off the top of the “Corrupt Government Acronym Agency” ladder, but this issue begins with an emergency alarm at their headquarters.  There’s a bit of spy-game switcheroo that, honestly, is pretty cleverly handled, allowing Commander Rogers, Moon Knight and the Black Widow to infiltrate and begin interrogations to find out which of the O.N.E. thugs is secretly working for the Shadow Council.  There’s a very disturbing Warren Ellis moment halfway through this issue that really brought my suspension of disbelief down, as Cap remarks that he doesn’t believe in torture, as it’s ugly, dishonorable and unreliable.  “So,” he concludes, “I’m going to let my colleagues do it.”  Right there, my enjoyment of the story gets all wrapped up in a Jack Bauer-esque prickly-pear about torture and such, and even the kind of fun lines given to Moon Knight (“Been a while since I cut a man’s face off,” he absolutely truthfully remarks) isn’t enough to get over the dissonance.


The first half of the issue comes with a handy countdown to something, and as the timer hits zero, we get an entertaining bit of fighty-fighty featuring War Machine, Valkyrie and Agent 13 against awful hideous monsters from beyond the world, but the wrap-up is sudden and pretty anti-climactic, and the last panel (which could have been an awesome thunderbolt moment) comes across as a depressing coda to what feels like a rushed issue.  Stuart Immonen does his usual awesome work throughout the issue, and aside from some occasional difficulties in telling which female team member is which (Valkyrie and Agent 13 are both blondes, and the hyper-saturated red and gold tones of the infiltration sequences even confuse me about the auburn-haired Black Widow at one point) the issue is visually clean and pleasant.  The end of the issue may or may not be meant to signal the death knell of the Shadow Council, but leaving the status of the evil organization open-ended adds to the unanswered questions and the issue’s not-quite-finished tone.


This issue does one thing well:  It wraps up the Shadow Council (for NOW) while giving the core team (minus the “dead” Nova and AWOL Ant-Man) one last day in the sun before next issue brings in movie Avengers to get things in line with the coming corporate synergy.  It’s not as cynical and soulless as all that, as Ellis plays with his usual story-beats, but it is highly reminiscent of his Stormwatch reboot (especially the part about frozen superhumans in the basement) and the momentum doesn’t quite carry all the way through the issue.  Secret Avengers #21 is solidly put-together, delivering a slightly-above-average, somewhat flawed tale, with strong art and some nice dialogue, earning a middle-of-the-road 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Though I expected to see the advent of the new Secret Avengers, the wrap-up of the old team wasn’t disastrous or off-putting, even though the $3.99 price point is a bit inexplicable on this particular book…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Is it possible to actually justify “superhero” with “underground black ops team?”


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Can a Superhero-verse have a black-ops team? Sure. Should it be run by one of the moral pillars of said universe? Probably not. This is the Marvel U where Faustian Deals are a good way to get rid of a marriage and existing characters can do a 180 personality-wise. So who cares as long as the stories are good and they sell.

  2. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. How can ANYTHING be SECRET about a bunch of over-muscled guys and over-endowed gals who run around in brightly colored costumes in broad daylight fighting monsters, aliens and evil doers, blowing up cities and knocking down buildings with flashy super powers? The whole concept is ludicrous. In my opinion, the only thing Marvel is doing right these days are the OZ comics, and it’s only a matter of time until they screw that up. The Amazing Cowardly Lion! The Ultimate Dorothy Girl! The Secret Scarecrow (oh my god, that last one sounds like it really could be a super hero… kill me know) and the Titanic Tin Man! Coming soon to a mental asylum near you!

  3. The closest I’ve seen to a “superhero black ops” team that’s worked for me is THUNDER Agents, and even then, they’re less “black ops” than “special forces”. Big difference. Oldcomicfan had it right – the bright & bold nature of superhero comics doesn’t lend itself well to covert ops.

    • So, that begs the question of why they keep doing it? T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was always “spies who have super-suits” rather than “super-heroes who are spies”, so it’s kind of a reversal of the trope in question, but what is it about this particular bit of ephemera that keeps writers coming back to it?

  4. I have to go to the other side on this one. I have to admit that I miss “Commander Rogers” even though I dearly love the Steve Rogers/Captain America character. Simply put I didn’t think that Steve Rogers should act like Captain America once he put down the shield. Captain America is a hero and a symbol. Steve Rogers is a solider, a leader and tactician and when you decide to lead in the area of black ops you accept the methods that are required for black ops.

    The ending only gave me one problem. Anyone that’s been a solider, warrior, police officer, etc. knows that the first thing you do when you have subdued an enemy and are going to do interrogation is to SEARCH them for weapons. Steve Rogers, Marc Spector and Natasha Romanov are three people that have backgrounds in these areas and to write in that the female pawn had a pistol hidden in her skirt waistband the whole time is what made that part of the story unrealistic.

    Art-wise the entire issue looked incredibly blurred and sketchy. While I loved the characterization of Beast being the team’s tech controller/mission monitor the artist made him look too much like Ron Pearlman’s “Beast” in the awful “Beauty and the Beast” TV series for my taste. I like Beast done more as a mix of canine and feline features and the “cat-man” look makes him too much like the New Men that his old buddies in The Defenders are currently dealing with.

    Overall I enjoyed the unusual team that Steve put together for this arc. I’m interested in seeing what happens in the new team and even more happy to see Clint Barton and Steve Rogers together again in the next issue. I have loved the “teacher/friend” dynamic of Cap and Hawkeye since Hawk’s first “babyface turn” in the Avengers many long years ago. I’m hoping that they will allow the Black Widow to move more into the Winter Solider series, which as a huge “Bucky” Barnes fan I’m looking forward to.

    Good try. Goodbye Commander Rogers, hello Hawkeye.

  5. Ellis is expensive. Remember that was the rationale for nextwave getting canceled? I’ll pay $3.99 happily for even an off story from Ellis set in the MU. And with him gone I can go back to ignoring Secret Avengers. Brubaker bored me with his inability to write teams and just making it an ensemble supporting Rogers. Rememnder already lost me on X-Force so why follow him doing the same formula with Avengers?

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